Choose a subject that is clear in appearance and compact in shape. Take four photos, (1) a general shot without any specific composition in mind, (2) filling the frame with the subject, (3) a close-up detail of part of the subject and (4) a wider shot showing the subject in context. Look at the resulting photos and experiment with different crops.
Canon EOS 650D with EF 24-105mm f/4.0 L IS USM lens.
The hardest part of this was finding the right subject; this was the successful one out of seven candidates, after I rejected the others mostly on the grounds of being too irregular-shaped to fill the frame properly. Anyway, once I found this postbox on a wall in the old town in Nice, I simply followed the brief.
The general shot is OK, nothing special: the subject is slap-bang in the middle of the frame, and it lacks interest and dynamism:
The second shot, filling the frame, gives it much more of a sense of presence and solidity; it’s clearer what the focus of the image is now:
The partial shot zones in on a specific detail, but it is still clear what the subject is; I think this particular detail evokes the sense of actually using the postbox, with the open slot and the arrow implying the activity of posting a letter:
The wide angle shot gives the context by revealing more of the wall and architectural features that give away that this is a postbox in an old quarter of town rather than a more contemporary urban setting:
The shots above are uncropped, as composed in camera. I went back to the photos and tweaked the cropping on 1 and 4 to what I thought was better in compositional terms.
For the general shot I removed some distracting elements towards the edges and straightened very slightly, and this had the effect of moving the postbox slightly off-centre, which looked more appealing that dead centre:
For the context shot, I tried a few crops; first I removed a few distracting elements towards the image edges and straightened by a couple of degrees. This to me represents a slight improvement on the generally favourable original, although the motorbike bottom right risks stealing your attention:
Then I tried a tighter crop but still in landscape format; this worked better for me, as you still get the texture and detail of the wall and window to help with the overall context, but you no longer have to decide whether to focus on the motorbike or the postbox:
The first of two portrait crops focuses on the position of the postbox up on the wall; I felt it started to lose something here, like it was just ‘floating’:
The second portrait format crop positioned the box higher in the frame, to depict its position from the pavement; this seemed more stable and ‘grounded’ to me than the previous crop, although losing the window and wall detail made it less contextually evocative:
What I’ve learned:
I’ve learned how to look at a potential subject from many different angles, at different focal lengths, using a greater or lesser amount of the frame to include the subject, in order to give different types of image. You can get a different message across or evoke different responses by pointing the camera at the same subject in a certain way, and using the viewfinder to select exactly what view you wish to capture. I’m reminded of the Garry Winogrand quote: “When you put four edges around some facts, you change those facts.” (date unknown).
Of the resultant pictures, I find I have a clear preference for two specific treatments here: firstly, the second (tighter) crop of number 4 where you see the postbox as a part of the wall, but without too many additional distractions; and secondly the number 2 shot that filled the frame, as here you can see the detail more clearly.